Rating: 4/4 (Get lost in the fun world of Jackie Chan and Chinese kung fu in The Karate Kid, a perfect homage to the original)
The new The Karate Kid movie is hard to resist for anyone who likes the original 1984 movie, with the unforgettable character of Mr. Miyagi and his student’s Crane kick. The new movie is a perfect homage to the older one pitting Jaden Smith as the student and Jackie Chan as his guru.
How the times have changed! In the old movie, the kid and his mom move to California and the teacher is an immigrant from Japan who teaches Karate. In keeping with the rapidly changing geopolitics of our time, Dre (Jaden Smith) and him mom move from Detroit (USA) to China, following the move of the auto industry. And when Dre is bullied, when he tries to flirt with a cute Chinese girl, he turns to Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), a maintainence man. Mr. Han teaches him kung fu, this is China afterall and karate is a Japanese martial art. The movie pretty much follows the original completely, with a Cobra maneuver replacing the cult-classic Crane kick. For the few who are not familiar with the old movie, the bully belongs to a bad-ass kung fu training school, where the teacher teaches an evil no-mercy version of the art. Dre and the bully collide frequently, and they decide to face off in a kung fu tournament to settle their differences. Mr. Han trains Dre, he uses Dre’s bad habit of not hanging up his jacket to teach him the basic moves. (This replaces the wax on, wax off routine of Mr. Miyagi.) Dre is ready after a couple of cool training montages and spectacular journeys through Chinese mountains and temples. Though the bully tries some unjust moves on Dre at the tournament, Dre finally prevails and earns the respect of everyone.
The movie is completely set in China, with almost all scenes shot on location. Most of the action takes place in Beijing (which I visited last year) and I found myself noticing and recalling the places, food, language and other cultural references. Surprising for a Hollywood movie, Dre and his mom are the only principal American actors, everyone else is Chinese. This makes this remake a lot more fresher and believable. The casting in the movie could not have been more perfect. Jaden Smith, the son of Will Smith, does not do a Dakot Fanning and delivers a believable performance. Taraji P. Henson, as his mom brings laughs to every single scene. Jackie Chan is peppy and charming as always, delivering almost all the fun of the movie. The grubby maintenance man look fits Chan perfectly, since he has finally started to show some age. Wen Wen Han (Dre’s crush) is very cute and Zhenwei Wang plays the perfect school bully to Dre. The Chinese locations are all spectacular, Forbidden City and The Temple of Heaven Park in Beijing, The Great Wall of China and the Wudang Mountains (location of the fake Dragon Well). The movie concentrates a lot more on the characters than on the kung fu, which is a relief. Even the matches in the final tournament are very short and quick, with very few moves. The movie had me completely sucked me into its world and I did not even notice its 2+ hour length! No matter what your age The Karate Kid will be hard to resist! 🙂